Times are tough. Many of us are personally and professionally disillusioned and disengaged. Making all of this harder for training and development people is the fact that our own professional development needs often take a back seat in our efforts to serve the needs of our audience.
Bottom line: the longer you take your own professional development for granted (or worse, wait for it to “happen” to you) the more likely you'll grow stagnant in your career. So if training design is your thing, NOW is the time to seize all the challenges your workplace presents as opportunities for learning how to be a better you! The training and development field at large is ushering in exciting changes to the workplace, including:
- Using social media
- Expanding access to training via mobile learning
- Adopting more informal learning practices
You may never be out in front of these trends, but you should be aware of them and prepared to shift and expand your role to make yourself more marketable. I'm no professional development expert or career coach, but when training peers ask me for specific ways they can become a better training designer, I almost always give a variation of the following response because I think it's about laying the foundation for personal and professional growth.
First, be a professional student
Passion for your job is great, but that level of intensity isn't very sustainable. Instead, nurture a passion for learning about your profession. When you see yourself as a professional student, you'll find that everything you do has some learning value — even if it isn't always inspiring.
To be a professional student:
- Seize ownership for your professional development. Stop waiting for your talent to be recognized and your potential “developed” by someone else. From here on out it's just you and your network of trusted friends, family, and professional mentors. Don't have a lot of support at home or at work? Join the ASTD or the SHRM and get connected with your local chapter, or do what I did and join Twitter and LinkedIn to participate in an ever-expanding virtual community.
- Experiment. Play with audio, video, PowerPoint and share it with peers or mentors whose opinions you respect. Remember, no one learns in a vacuum.
- Read, practice – repeat for infinity. If you're not a reader, invest in a subscription to Audible and download audio books about creativity, cognition, leadership, business management, etc. Not only does a steady stream of new information challenge your views about the world, it also helps you identify specific areas of focus for your future career.
Then, ask questions — lots of them
‘We run this company on questions, not answers.’ – Eric Schmidt, CEO of Google
Many of us work for companies that value adherence to process over challenging the status quo. Many of us just don't feel comfortable about asking questions. Personally, I find it difficult to ask questions. I worry about being seen as pesky, difficult – or worse – stupid. This has been especially hard for me when working with Subject Matter Experts. But a fear of questions can seriously impede our jobs as training designers – and it contributes to an overall feeling of career stagnation.
Here's what I'm doing to overcome my fears:
- Accept the fact that asking questions is a sign of strength, confidence, and intelligence.
- Just do it. As Yoda, Jedi Master (and trainer) says – “Do or do not – there is no try.” Next time you're tempted to suppress your urge to ask, go for it and throw your question out there. Worst case scenario – you learn something. (see above)
- Make time for questions. Don't set yourself up for questioning failure by not allowing enough time for questions. If you've got a SME who is hard to access, plan a series of short interviews to get what you need from them.
- Lead off with basic, broad questions and then drill down. Open-ended questions are a great place to start because they give the other person a chance to give broad answers which may, in turn, open up additional questions.
- Develop listening skills. Good listening deepens the conversation and makes sure you're asking the right questions.
Take Calculated Risks
Some work environments just don't reward people for taking risks and creatively stretching. But that doesn't mean you shouldn't try!
- Don't get hung up on incorporating every element of your idea into your next project. Implementing one or two ideas and making small, incremental changes is a great way to sneak progress in under the radar.
- Design for usability. Designers often think in terms of usability, so if your big ideas are limited to color schemes, fonts, and clip-art motifs you may not be stretching enough. Try taking your design thinking to the next level but shifting your mindset from “I develop training/I deliver learning” to “I develop and deliver tools/applications.”
How are you making your professional development a personal priority? Tell us your story and drop us a line.
Trina Rimmer is a learning and communications consultant with twelve years experience designing, developing, and delivering smart, engaging training. When her skills aren't being tested by her children, you'll find her helping others to develop their own training design muscles.